COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - In a gubernatorial primary fraught with sex allegations and political attacks, Sen. Jake Knotts stoked the fire Thursday night when he referred to President Barack Obama and state Rep. Nikki Haley, the current gubernatorial front-runner, as "rag-heads" on a political internet radio show.
"We already got one raghead in the White House," Knotts said on the Pub Politics show Thursday night. "We don't need another in the Governor's Mansion."
Video of Knotts' remarks was due to be posted on the show's website Friday, but the show's hosts Phil Bailey and Wes Donahue said Friday afternoon in a post on Facebook they would not be posting the video. When pressed by commenters for more details, the duo responded: "We changed our minds."
Donahue posted Friday morning on his Twitter page, "Maybe politicians, beer and cameras don't mix real well after all."
Haley's parents are Indian immigrants, a point she has often cited in campaign speeches.
Now, state GOP leaders are distancing themselves from the outspoken state Senator and Democratic Party members are asking for Knotts' resignation.
State Democratic chair Karen Fowler said Thursday night in a release that the Republican party has repeatedly embarrassed South Carolina with scandal and poorly-timed statements. "The language Sen. Knotts used, and his lame excuse for an apology, are completely unacceptable," she said. "If he has any shame at all, he will resign from the Senate."
She added: "There should be no room in government for hate speech."
Lin Bennett, the Charleston County GOP chairwoman, called Knotts an embarassment.
"Jake Knotts has a history of saying obnoxious and appalling things," she said and called for his resignation.
State GOP chair Karen Floyd issued a statement Friday, condemning Knotts' comment. "The South Carolina Republican Party strongly condemns any use of racial or religious slurs. Sen. Knotts should apologize for his inappropriate comments, so that we can put this unfortunate incident behind us and focus on issues important to moving our state forward," she said in the release.
Knots ultimately put out a statement of apology -- almost.
"My 'raghead' comments about Obama and Haley were intended in jest," he said. "Bear in mind that this is a freewheeling, anything-goes internet radio show that is broadcast from a pub. It's like local political version of 'Saturday Night Live' which is where the joke came from."
Knotts went on to say that his attempt at humor "was lost in translation" and that he "still believe[s] Ms. Haley is pretending to be someone she is not, much as Obama did."
No one has been able to track down a similarly worded skit on the late-night NBC variety show.
Haley's spokesman Tim Pearson reiterated what has become a talking point in recent weeks for the campaign, pointing to Knott's behavior as the problem in South Carolina's political climate.
"Jake Knotts represents all that is wrong with South Carolina politics. He's an embarrassment to our state and to the Republican Party. South Carolina is so much better than this, and the people of our state will make that quite clear next Tuesday," he said.
Early Friday afternoon, former first lady Jenny Sanford denounced the current behavior of the Republican party, saying: "I have watched with revulsion the spectacle that is now surrounding the governor's race. Our state is better than this."
Ms. Sanford said she believed Haley was being attacked because her political agenda threatens "many of the most powerful interests in state government."
Knotts and Haley both hail from Lexington County, but Knotts has put all of his support behind Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer. Bauer, on Wednesday night, was blasted on live television by Haley for fishing a story about her involving a second extramarital affair.
Haley has been mired in allegations of extramarital affairs in the last two weeks, both of which she vehemently denies. Haley has accused both men -- political blogger Will Folks and recently fired fund raiser for Bauer, Larry Marchant -- of inventing the stories to bury her campaign. The allegations did not surface until after Haley gained the support of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, an endorsement that pushed her into a double-digit lead over the other three hopefuls.
So far, neither allegation has come with any substantive proof.
The scramble away from Knotts is starting to look like a similar distancing from Gov. Mark Sanford almost a year ago when he disclosed on national television an affair with a South American businesswoman whom he referred to as his "soul mate." The disclosure led to his fall from the limelight within the Republican party and a dissolution of his marriage.
Joel Sawyer, his spokesperson at the time, said the governor was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Bob Behanian contributed to this report.